I haven’t felt squeamish in years. So, you must understand my confusion when I came upon the newest scene of death and dismemberment and something lurched in my stomach. A few thoughts went through my head as I clutched with one hand on my gut. I assumed the sponge steak I had made had been bad or something of that ilk. That I had failed to drink enough sim-water.
Only after another second I realized the truth: I was grossed out, disgusted. My partner did not look at me as she passed by my frozen figure into the living room, and so I did not have to explain my situation as she kneeled next to what used to be a person.
Still was kind of a person. Maintained the basic shape at least. The arms fine, and the head even had some of the old structure. The jaw would not win any awards, but the rest of the countenance would not appear out of place in a family portrait.
I found such a portrait and picked it off the mantle. Him and a grown daughter, their names scribbled at the bottom. My stomach swirled with sour acid, yet again, before I breathed a sigh, placed back the picture, and faced the poor corpse of James Gustaf, Jr.
“What do you think happened,” I said, watching as my unflappable partner dug her thin fingers into the open cavity to widen it. The ribs appeared like teeth, and I expected them to snap shut and pull her inside.
“I’m not sure,” she said, peering closer.
“Wait, actually, it’s kind of like…” she added after a minute, “It’s like something I saw in the academy—hazing ritual went too far, but this is extreme even by that standard.”
I sucked in a breath and forced out a natural-sounding laugh. “How far? A ton? Or has the academy gotten even more ruthless than it had been when I was there?”
She chuckled, and the sound only threw how much I was off my game into sharper relief. Stoic that woman. Not even a twinge of concern. We’d both seen worse. Her first case with me had been dealing with a premeditated acid flood on a vacation asteroid. She’d stepped in brain matter on her second.
“No, not a ton, not murderous at least,” she explained, “It was a dummy they let the thing loose on after filling it with ketchup. Scared the shit out of some of us. But still, the exit pattern was about the same.”
Steeling myself, and sucking in so much air, all in controlled bursts through my nose, I leaned down next to her, and she pointed to the inner part. Even as my stomach juices flowed around my throat like hot lead, I could see what the issue was.
“Huh, that’s not normal. Did an organic do that? Was it an organic in the hazing ritual?”
She did not answer for a second, but then turned her head to me. “Not really. Not organic, exactly. It’s more like a… combo.”
After taking another glance at the lack of any organs in the body, and the almost too dry way the blood stuck to the inside of the opened chest and rib cage area, I stood and looked at anything else. She remained on the floor.
“What do you mean?” I eventually asked, still ignoring the face of the man turned empty meat husk. “Something android-like?”
“Not so much, no,” she said, shaking her head. Her voice had a graveness I did not understand. She stood, and, despite her being shorter than me by a few inches, I felt dwarfed.
My stomach lurched; I worried I would vomit on her. Knowing how she reacted to the first time I killed a Bug Berry by her head, she would only give a sour look, but this prediction still did not make me want to test her tolerance on it.
“Okay,” I said, “So explain it to me.”
“I’m sorry,” she said.